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Toward a more sustainable Augsburg

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by Betsey Norgard

Living sustainably is no longer merely an option. As a vast majority of the world’s people struggle for resources to sustain even simple lives, a small minority consume at rates that will quickly deplete Earth’s resources and imperil future generations.

Environmental concerns are now front and center on our national agenda. But beyond these, the broader considerations of sustainable living—economic and social policies that determine how resources are shared—remain difficult to tackle.

Augsburg’s history, mission, and vision call for the College to engage in these broad discussions of sustainability. The two vision documents of 1997 and 2005 spell out an institutional vocation for the College rooted in a blending of Lutheran heritage, immigrant history, and urban location that demands a caring stewardship of God’s creation.

As the College explores how it lives out its institutional vision—We are called to serve our neighbor—it must look beyond the changes brought about by green practices and invite the deeper conversations in community that probe the meaning of living sustainably in the city.


“Mr. Green”

If Augsburg had a “Mr. Green” contest, TOM RUFFANER ’98 might well be the best candidate. Over the past decade, he has led Augsburg toward greater commitments in sustainable living.

Ruffaner has pushed Augsburg to bring about environmental improvements in energy use, safer cleaning products, and recycling and waste reduction (starting with a comprehensive Waste Wise audit). He also helped the College study its transportation habits and commuting alternatives. And, he has chaired the Environmental Stewardship Committee and supported community efforts.

In fall 2007, Ruffaner received an Individual Achievement Commuter Choice Award, given by Metro Transit, that recognizes organizations and individuals for their creative solutions in promoting alternatives to driving alone. He also served on the advisory committee that helped design the light rail station nearest Augsburg.

A 1998 graduate in metro-urban studies, Ruffaner is the custodial supervisor at Augsburg.

The greening of Augsburg

The Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC), made up of faculty, staff, and students, leads the environmental initiatives of the College. Created in 1990 as a task force, it was revitalized by President William Frame in 1999 and given both purpose and strength.

Tom Ruffaner, longtime committee chair and custodial supervisor, believes that the comprehensive “Waste Wise” audit carried out in 1999 became the “driving force behind ‘greening’ at Augsburg.” The audit “not only identified areas of waste and inefficiencies across campus but also offered resources to make improvements.”

The ESC Vision Statement in 2004 summarized its goals: “The stewardship of the urban and global environment can only be pursued if we take these steps toward using less, living more simply, and acting with the care and awareness of the impact of actions on the people and ecosystem within which we live and on which we all depend.”

In 2006, Augsburg’s new president, Paul C. Pribbenow, quickly embraced the growing urgency to address issues of sustainability and gave voice to a deeper understanding of sustainability within Augsburg’s mission and vision.

The changes across campus in the past three years have been significant. Sustainability is infused through Augsburg’s curriculum and grounded in its daily practices—on campus, in the community, and around the world.

Augsburg participates in two important institutional collaborations:

• Presidents Climate Commitment—President Pribbenow joined more than 600 American college and university presidents to sign an agreement to “neutralize greenhouse gas emissions and to accelerate the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate.” A report has just been completed that measures the College’s carbon footprint.

• Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities (ACTC)—Five colleges (Augsburg, Hamline, St. Thomas, St. Catherine, Macalester) are exploring ways to create a stronger academic identity that clearly expresses their shared identity as an urban institution and centers on the theme of sustainable urban development. Ideas may include curricular development, community outreach, research, service-learning, internships, study abroad, and faculty development.


Green Vehicle Initiative

The green vehicle initiative developed from the inspiration of Brian Krohn’s biofuel discoveries and my resources as a member of Augsburg Day Student Government in fall 2008. Almost immediately Reid Larson and Steve Eichten also committed themselves fully to the project. Collectively, the four of us found that our goal was to ensure that our next Department of Public Safety vehicle was both a fiscally and environmentally sound investment. After hearing estimates that the department puts nearly 150 miles daily on their vehicle, we realized that having either a biodiesel or hybrid would surely be cost effective. It turned out that a Ford Escape Hybrid would save the college $30,000 annually by our low-end estimates.

Initially finding little support in the purchase of a hybrid, the group prepared for a meeting with President Paul Pribbenow. We presented him with graphs on two- and fouryear savings, a list of ways that he would be supporting the Presidents Climate Commitment he had signed earlier in the year, and a list of colleges, universities, and police departments that all had successfully integrated hybrid vehicles into their programs. By meeting’s end the president had given us an oral commitment to the Ford Escape, and said that John Pack, director of public safety, had also expressed his support earlier in the day. By September 2008 the College’s new hybrid vehicle was in use on campus. The Green Vehicle Coalition, as it has developed into, sees this particular project only as a first step toward many long-term goals.

Students step forward

Some of the most exciting projects for sustainability have come from student-led initiatives. Students have researched alternative fuels, organized teach-ins, gained student backing to support wind energy, pushed the College to purchase green vehicles, and become engaged in the political process.

Augsburg’s chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) began the initial efforts to recycle in the 1970s. Recently, its Environmental Task Force, along with student groups, has led projects on campus, including:

• Focus the Nation teach-in—Augsburg joined organizations across the country in setting aside a day to engage the entire campus in conversations on sustainability.

• Wind energy purchase—Both day and weekend student governments held referendums in which students voted to add a new student fee to contribute to wind energy purchase. It enables Augsburg to offset 100% of its fossil-fuel electricity costs on the Minneapolis campus, making the College one of the largest purchasers of wind power in the state.

• Hybrid security vehicle—When a security vehicle was due for replacement, a student group pushed for the College to buy a hybrid fuel vehicle.

• Food services changes—Students initiated the practice of composting food, saving three-quarters of a ton of trash.

• Environmental history of Augsburg— The 2007 Environmental Connections class researched and wrote “From Rural to Urban: The Environmental History of Augsburg College 1872-2005,” studying its relationship to nature, technology, and humans.

• Trash audit—In order to call attention to lackadaisical attitudes toward recycling, a group of students went through twodays’ worth of garbage and showed how nearly 70% of it was either compostable or recyclable.

Much work remains before Augsburg can be satisfied it is consuming only what Earth can renew. But now, that work is increasingly carried out with greater consciousness of the impact made by personal choices and practices, both on the self and on an interconnected and interdependent global community.

 Focus leads to wind energy

My dad tells me, “Dreams are free. Dream big, it won’t cost money.” I listened and dreamt and acted big by forming an ad hoc organization and, with other students, started organizing for the Focus the Nation teach-in in January 2008. The teach-in provided rich liberal arts perspectives to more than 500 attendees and launched momentum towards switching Augsburg’s energy consumption from fossil fuel to wind energy.

The organizing students petitioned Day Student Government for a referendum to impose a fee of $14.75 per semester to purchase wind energy. The referendum passed, with 68% of the vote, and day students now contribute more than $54,000 annually. Contributions from Weekend College Government and the administration enable us to purchase enough wind power to make Augsburg’s Minneapolis campus 100% free of fossil fuel electricity. We have reduced the equivalent in carbon emissions of taking 26,000 cars off the road or planting 69 square miles of trees each year.

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